Fresh doubts over Christmas easing of rules as UK’s COVID reproduction “R” rate jumps to between 1.1 and 1.2
Highest R since start of November, when England’s national lockdown was imposed
R above 1.0 means outbreak can grow exponentially
The UK’s coronavirus reproduction “R” rate has jumped above 1.0 again – raising further doubts about the easing of restrictions over Christmas.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the R number is now between 1.1 and 1.2, well up from 0.9 and 1.0 last week.
Friday’s update means there will be fresh concerns about the government’s Christmas plan to permit a five-day easing of restrictions between 23 and 27 December, when three households will be allowed to mix.
R represents the average number of people each COVID-positive person goes on to infect. When the figure is above 1.0, an outbreak can grow exponentially.
The latest R of between 1.1 and 1.2 means that on average, every 10 people with COVID will infect between 11 and 12 other people.
It is the highest figure since 6 November, when R was between 1.1 and 1.3, and England’s national lockdown had just started.
It also means the progress from two weeks ago, when R had been at its lowest (0.8 to 1.0) since mid-August, has been lost.
Of England’s regions, the East has the highest R: between 1.2 and 1.4. Parts of the region were placed in the most restrictive Tier 3 on Thursday. The North East and Yorkshire and North West have the lowest R: between 0.9 and 1.1.
Watch: Boris Johnson refuses to rule out post-Christmas lockdown
Separate research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), released on Friday, also painted a worrying picture ahead of Christmas as it estimated infections increased by nearly 18% during England’s first full week back in the three-tier system.
The ONS infection survey suggested there were 567,300 people in England with COVID-19 between 6 and 12 December.
This is up 85,800 – 17.8% – from 481,500 infections between 29 November and 5 December. The national lockdown ended on 2 December, when the three-tier system came into effect.
On Friday, Boris Johnson also refused to rule out a third national lockdown after the easing of restrictions over the festive season.
During a visit to Greater Manchester, the prime minister was asked whether England would follow Northern Ireland in imposing stringent restrictions after the festive period.
He said: “We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that. But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”
Meanwhile, Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, has warned the easing of the rules could lead to an “unrelenting tsunami” of cases in the New Year.
She said ministers should give “fresh and more detailed” advice to the public with a week to go until Christmas.
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